You'd think that after three years in Dubai I would have learned my lesson: I would know how to work the system. Usually, you can find a way around red tape once you know the system well enough. But of course, what one forgets in Dubai is that you can only work the system, if the system is the same as it was the last time you encountered it. In Dubai, this never, ever happens because...well, far be it from me to suggest that the rules are made up as we go along.
So, in the past week I have had the misfortune to have contact with the immigration authorities. Or rather my husband has, because, of course I'm a woman, so I couldn't possibly take on the responsibility of standing in a queue, paying for something or organising the employment of household help. No, no, no, women can't do that, can they? How proposterous!
Just so you can fully appreciate the system in Dubai, below is the procedure, as I see it, for anything you do at immigration:
1. Upon entering immigration, ask which area you should queue in. Wait 40 minutes, wondering why you have not been called to the counter.
2. Ask again where you should sit to wait, to be told that you should have taken a ticket 40 minutes ago (but they forgot to tell you that) and you will now have to start again.
3. Wait another 30 minutes until your number is called.
4. Once at the counter explain to the member of staff (who has never spoken English before) that you need the paperwork to hire household staff. You will be given a piece of official looking paper in English that you are required to get typed in Arabic. Pay the member of staff 200aed for this information and the piece of paper.
5. You will be directed to the typing queue, where once again, you take a ticket and wait a further 45 minutes.
6. When you finally get to the counter, you have the piece of paper typed in Arabic, hand over 500 aed, and return to the previous waiting area, take another ticket, and wait a further 40 minutes.
7. At the counter once again, you watch the member of staff type frantically into his computer, thinking that he is dealing with your request, when in fact he is updating his twitter page. You are now required to pay a deposit of 2000 aed but not at this counter.
8. You head for the cashier counter, take another ticket and wait 35 minutes to pay the deposit and get a receipt.
9. Back to the original waiting area, another ticket and another 45 minute wait.
10. At the counter you show receipt for deposit, wait for long conversation in Arabic with member of staff on the right to end, and ask for the contract.
11. The member of staff now explains that the person you want to employ is on the wrong sort of visa and will have to take a flight out of the Country and come back in with the official piece of paper he now hands to you. You ask him why this wasn't mentioned when you spoke to him over 2 hours ago. He looks at you blankly. You beg him for a fine instead of the hassle of booking a flight. He refuses.
12. You pay him a further 300aed. And so, after almost 4.5 hours you leave, completely exhausted and frustrated, with the most expensive paperwork you have ever purchased and a flight to book. And guess what, once the maid comes back with the correct visa you have to go through this all again!